A few years ago, Gagdad Bob made fun of dopey lefty lyrics in rock songs of the 60s and 70s. You know, “America is bad”, “war is bad”, “religion is bad”, etc. A lot like today’s New York Times, in fact.
Making fun of Dopey Lefty Lyrics from that era is easy, like shooting fish in a barrel. And there is such a wide variety to choose from. As Gagdad Bob points out, “American Woman” and “War” and “Imagine” are near the top of any such list.
I do have one minor quibble with his list though: “Love the One You’re With”. I used to despise the lyrics to this song too — and it is kind of a mess musically, too. But on closer listening, I decided it is not about cheating while your girlfriend is away, it is about a guy who’d been dumped, and so he figures, correctly, that pining for a former love (or “bitch” as the case may be) that dumped you is a poor choice when there is another young lady right next to you.
Don’t be angry
Don’t be sad
Don’t sit cryin’
For good times you had
Words to live by, my friend.
But back to “War” and that ilk. They had a real vibe going back then, didn’t they? Yeah, Amerikkka is what’s wrong with the world, bro! Amerikkka, and its evil presidents that love to launch wars. Yeah, we’re bloodthirsty.
In fact, noted social critic Edwin Starr, when asked about war, and specifically, what is it good for, replied “absolutely nothin’!”. Say it again, Edwin!
As John Lennon noted helpfully in “Imagine”, other things wrong with America include religion, and possessions. These were the real problems facing the world in 1970. Also, no doubt, running out of dope.
Well, not to harsh your mellow or anything, guys, but you forgot a few things on the List of Things Wrong With The World: oppression, murderous dictators, failed Marxist ideologies, lack of basic human rights, like a free press, or freedom to worship, or freedom to own a weapon, to protect yourself from (and “speak truth to power” to) corrupt dictators that plunder resources and enrich themselves at the expense of the people. Also clean water, which eliminates much of the disease that afflicts the poorer countries of the world.
Here’s what is not on your List, but is definitely on mine: over-fed, over-educated, pampered pacifists from rich Western nations who have the gall — despite the fact that MILLIONS of their countrymen died in two World Wars to defend a possible future that could include such ungrateful ignoramuses — to insist that by just covering their eyes and ears, and singing “LA LA LA LA LA”, they can make evil in the world disappear. Right, because that’s worked so well before.
It’s funny, I don’t recall hearing a John Lennon followup song to “Imagine”, paying tribute to the two million dead from the Khmer Rouge who, ironically, instituted the same “no religion, no possessions” ideas the Lennon pushed, but also included raping and pillaging across the countryside and executing one third of the population of Cambodia. But since this happened after our withdrawal, the anti-war Left was too busy patting themselves on the back for forcing that withdrawal to notice the ensuing slaughter that we knew was a major risk of evacuating the region. But hey, the evil Americans are gone, it must be all sunshine and happiness there now, eh? Turns out, not so much, no. “Imagine” that.
There is something to be said for humility, for the idea that, hey, guess what? Smarter people than you, brave recording artist, have actually thought about this stuff before! Because it is all so flipping obvious.
Writing platitudes and setting them to pretty melodies is a great way to mobilize people and change attitudes for a social cause, like civil rights. But when you’re dealing with a war, against foreign powers … mmmm, not so much. Yet our 60s counter-culture heroes, those brave draft-dodging singers and songwriters, fought the good fight anyway. Because they are artistes. And you know the old saying “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Likewise, to an artiste, everything looks like a lyric.
Which is fine, as far as it goes. Which isn’t very far. And that is the whole point.
It’s not like every war ever launched in the history of the planet was because nobody ever thought “hey, here’s an idea … maybe we should try peace! Why didn’t we think of that before? Duh!”
News flash: there are bad guys in the world, and they like to kill people, occupy territory, plunder resources, and oppress populations. And, get this, these diabolical leaders will do this even if we sit in a circle and sing “kumbaya” and clang our finger cymbals. Because, see, they want us to sit there and do nothing. It helps them accomplish their goals.
Meanwhile, the unfree people in the world, those with real complaints — those that live under daily oppression, in any of a hundred thousand hellholes in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia — couldn’t write, or record, or perform songs like that without getting arrested, tortured, or killed.
Such people can’t “speak truth to power”. Literally. Because the “power” will kill them. That’s why they call it “power”.
Conversely, if you have the freedom to “speak truth to power”, you don’t really have much to complain about, do you?
Ponder the irony.